Days melded into one in a huge blur, as if no time had passed between Mona having stood at the platform awaiting train and now. She was back to her old life. Nothing else and no one else seemed to have changed but she herself. She’d wake every morning, before the whole house woke and sit on her bed knowing that somewhere, she didn’t even know where, but somewhere out there was an old manor of sorts, dark, aged, and quiet. And in its long mysterious halls walked a man, or thing she’d never fully seen but she knew he was there, roaming those hallways as if in search of something. She’d hear him sometimes walking down the hall towards her room. His footsteps would still outside for what felt like ages, then they’d walk again, back into the darkness. She used to be terrified of those moments, as if he’d barge in and torture her somehow. He never did. In fact, he’d been nothing but kind. Now that she thought about it, she felt a kind of peace, even a hint of longing to hear those reassuring feet walk towards her room. Make sure she was okay like he’d done. Those were the days she always found his letters with her breakfast, to see how she was going and if she desired anything else.
‘Mona!’ Came an unexpected shriek of her eldest sister. ‘Mona, come quick, dad needs you!’
Without haste, Mona flew off her bed and ran down the hallway to her father’s room. She caught him as he tried to stand. ‘Why are you up? You need rest, daddy.’
‘All I’ve been doing is resting. If I rest anymore I’m gonna be dying.’ He held onto her shoulders. ‘I want the sun on my face today.’
‘It’s a cloudy day daddy. You’re not gonna see the sun, but I can put the fire on for you.’ She led him to the lounge and placed him on the couch before trying to kindle a fire.
‘Why did you come back?’
‘What you mean? It’s my home, and I missed you.’ She turned in time to see tears stream down his haggard face. He held his hand out to her and she went to him. ‘I’m where I belong.’
He nodded. ‘What will happen to you when I’m gone?’ He held her face gently. ‘My Belle. What have I done to bring such a beauty in this world, huh?’
Mona smiled and kissed her father’s cheek and held his hand. ‘We will be fine.’
He coughed, a deep cough that sent her into a panic. He wasn’t sounding good these days. ‘I thought I made a trade, my life for yours.’ Her father caressed her check reverently. ‘I thought he’d give you the world, whatever you asked for, but here you are, back in the grind. Slaving away for people who don’t deserve you.’
‘You are my family.’ Mona felt confused. What did her father mean when he said he’d traded his life for her. ‘I asked to be here. This is what I want.’ She searched his face for answers but none were coming.
‘What a life it could have been.’ He smiled small. ‘Beauty and the …’
Beast! Her thought reeled straight to him and she didn’t hear what her father was saying.
‘Belle! My Mona.’
‘You’re getting late for work today. Go. Before they wake up and pretend they are royalty and you Cinderella. Go child.’
Belle hugged her father. Something in his voice made her spine tingle and not in a good way. ‘I hate leaving you with them.’
Her father laughed. ‘Now you know how I feel when I think of leaving you with these selfish monsters.’
‘Don’t joke about that please, daddy.’ She planted a kiss on his head. ‘I’ll get you some hot porridge and tea before I go. And make sure they feed you lunch yeah? I’ll bring us something special for dinner from work, the two of us.’
‘Goodbye my princess.’
Mona stopped and stared at her father. Something was not right. She could feel it in her blood. ‘Are you feeling okay?’
Between wet, snarky coughs, he nodded. ‘Get going.’
All day, thoughts about her father and Beast interrupted her. She was giving wrong change to customers, serving milk when they’d asked for black coffee, burning toast, or forgetting orders.
‘Are you alright, Mona?’ Her boss pulled her aside after lunch rush. ‘You don’t look so good. You getting any rest at home?’
Mona stared at him, perplexed. Part of her wondered everyday why she hadn’t been fired. Part of her wondered why they hadn’t asked why she’d gone missing for more than a month. But they again, she’d felt it odd when she’d gone back to the diner to ask for her old job back, they’d laughed.
‘Why? What happen to you last night? You hit your head or something? And why aren’t you already in uniform?’
‘What?’ She asked.
‘I’ve been watching you all morning. Your heads somewhere else.’
‘It’s my dad.’ She sighed. ‘He didn’t look well this morning, and started talking strange, like he was saying goodbye or something.’
‘Go home. I can’t have you working like this where clearly your head and heart is at home. Go home and be with you dad. You can come back when you are ready.’
And that was it. Moments later, Mona was back at the same platform waiting for the train. She couldn’t help but think of the brick room where she’d first arrived aay Lucifer’s. Had Beast been entirely a figment of her apparently very wild imagination? She wasn’t quite sure, but she did miss his voice in her head.
‘Wondered when you’d be thinking of me.’ The unmistakable boom echoed in her mind and she jumped.
‘Are you kidding me?’ She looked around. There were a handful of people around her. Their eyes furrowed in query. She half smiled. ‘The train’s late again!’ She turned away, staring down the track.
‘Are you even real?’ She whispered, aware of looking like a loon talking to herself. ‘How do I know you’re even real?’
‘Look around. Tell me what you see.’ And she did just that.
‘A platform, people waiting for train, train tracks, billboards, the schedule screen, the guards…’
‘Look down the platform. At the tracks. What do you see?’ Mona turned, taking a deep breath as she focused on the track. ‘Just where the shadows start. What do you see?’
‘I…’ She couldn’t be sure, she swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. There on the tracks, just beyond the shadow a figure looms, two eyes glowing dim red for a few seconds before everything belongs to the shadows again. ‘Your eyes,’ she managed breathily. She could never forget those terrifying eyes.
‘Breathe Mona!’ His voice in an instant floated around her ear, as if he were standing behind her. She turned to nothing but air. ‘I’m here. Whenever you want me.’ His voice floated to her other ear. ‘All you have to do is call my name.’
‘Lucifer,’ the name volunteered itself out of her and in a delusional moment, she saw a tall figure, looming on the edge of the platform.
Mona searched the commuters on the platform to see if anyone had noticed the sudden appearance of a very tall man, but no one had. When she turned, there was no more than air and the screeching sound of rails gliding a locomotive towards her.
She took a deep, staggering breath and closed her eyes. It’s not real. It’s not real. No one else can see him.
As the train pulled into the platform, the doors opened and a rumble of people staggered out. That’s when she saw him again, standing inside the train, staring at her, a smile she could barely make out. Those eyes. Those terrifying eyes.
She blinked hard hoping to erase her thoughts, but an image flashed in her mind. A garden of sort, everything in it dead, wilting. Everything in it dark and colorless. All except a rose blooming from a seemingly dead rose bush. One simple, beautiful red rose.
When Mona opened her eyes, he was gone, but the image remained in her mind. Seared in fact. The train doors beeped, sending her in a rush before they closed on her. A rose. What did it have to do with him?